Meet the professional musician who grew up on a council estate and is now one of Yorkshire's top pig breeders

The “caviar of pork” is how one South Yorkshire pig breeder describes the critically endangered Large Black he is promoting through his role as pig secretary when Penistone Show makes its comeback.

Lee Dunkley is a professional tuba player who also keeps pigs on his farm near Penistone

Lee Dunkley of Midhopestones has taken up the role of secretary of the show’s pigs section and next weekend will see the largest ever representation of the Large Black pig breed at any show with over 25 pigs and at least 10 exhibitors.

It was the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition to keep pigs when Lee took up the breed four years ago having moved with his wife Anna to a rundown farmhouse in Midhopestones.

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It was a total career change for Lee whose life as a professional tuba player has seen him tour the world playing with the English Philharmonic, spend time on Broadway for the musical Chicago and working with Taylor Swift in Mexico.

Lee and his wife Anna with daughters Maisie and Sophie with the farmhouse they have renovated

Lee said that music saved his life and that keeping pigs is a bucket list tick giving him great satisfaction.

“I was brought up in south Manchester on Wythenshawe housing estate where you’re only options seemed to be to work at Manchester Airport as a baggage handler or drug dealing.

“I was incredibly lucky. I found a smashed-up old tuba in a school stock room cupboard and my life changed. It was home to a dead mouse and was mainly held together by sellotape and electrical tape, but I took to it really well.

“I went to the Royal Northern College of Music and luckily a professor spotted some sort of talent in me and I was put forward for and received a full scholarship at the extremely expensive and world renowned Chetham’s School of Music. It cost more per term there than going to Eton.

“My parents would never have been able to afford that in a million years.

“They had bought me a trumpet for £50 that they had borrowed from an aunt. Sadly, I never got on with the trumpet, but the tuba rescued me from what could have been a pretty mundane existence.

“From being a child I had listened to my uncle tell stories of keeping pigs and cows and I had aspirations of doing the same.

“As my culinary interests meant I started thinking about what I was eating and tracking down quality food, I realised that if I had my own animals I could track how they had lived and what they had eaten.

“When we decided to get pigs I looked carefully at each of the 11 remaining existing recognised native breeds that are all, very sadly, now rare and at risk of extinction. We were looking to start a family and I found the Large Black to be the most placid and well natured, such softies.

“I also found the meat they produce is truly delicious and succulent - the caviar of pork. That’s when I made it my mission to help the survival of this beautiful animal.”

Lee had started attending Penistone Show several years ago when he and his wife had first moved to South Yorkshire, taking a cottage in Low Bradfield. He has been successful previously with his Pekin bantams and the eggs they produce and also with his dahlias in the horticulture classes.

Lee said he took one of his pigs for the first time in 2018, the last time pigs were at the show.

“I took a gorgeous sow and had been encouraged by meeting other pig breeders. The following year there were no classes and having enquired as to why, I volunteered to try and ensure they took place again.

“What I was intending was to run the pig show as it would always have been with all breeds represented but it has been a very strange two years for all of us.

“I haven’t played my tuba professionally since Covid-19 and a lot of pig breeders have either reduced their stock or just haven’t been ready to show stock this year.

“As it is the 25th anniversary of the Large Black Breeders Club this year and as I already had contacts with many of the breeders I suggested we concentrate on them this year.

“The Cornish and Essex Large Blacks came together to form the breed as we know it today and there is a link as far back as the Spanish Armada that had Iberian Black pigs aboard when they came to grief on our shores.

“I am so pleased with the number of entries we have received already and we may still get to 30, which would be phenomenal as there are generally only around four to five breeders who regularly show anywhere in the UK.

“I made it my ambition to get to between five to ten breeders and we might yet exceed that too.”

Lee said that he has been delighted with support he has received from his new sponsor and the number of young people who are getting involved.

“Gary Pearson of The Electric Gate Shop is a neighbour of ours and has put up some amazing prize money as well as two new trophies by the Large Black Breeders Club, and so we are attracting breeders from all over England and Wales. Healey City Farm, the community farm in Sheffield, is coming and they are bringing a number of children who will compete in the four young handler classes we are planning.

“We will also be running novelty competitions too. I’m aware of agricultural shows being places where we entertain and educate the crowd. I’m hoping that all we do can capture the minds of the public and promote rare breed pigs.”

Next year’s show is already on Lee’s mind. “I really want to push Penistone as a pig show of national importance. I’d like to have all of our native breeds represented in 2022 and I’m hoping to encourage everyone to show from seasoned exhibitors to novices and particularly young people.

“Numbers of Large Blacks have increased a little in recent years but it is still on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s critically endangered list. It is now rarer than a panda!”

Lee also occasionally conducts brass bands and has been playing more lately to a quite different audience at home.

“My neighbour’s cattle react well to my playing. They must pick up the tones, because they join in sometimes.”